Sunday, July 8, 2012

Easy Steps to Add a Watermark and Copyright Symbol to your Images

As originally published in Wildlife Photography & News

Did you know that that in the United States, image theft of more than 10 copies of copyrighted material with a value of at least $2500 is deemed a felony?  Even so, image theft is one that is difficult to fight once it’s already happened, it can be difficult to prove monetary loss (a large reason for lawsuits), and unless the stakes are high, lawsuits are often avoided (even when justified), due to the expense in all but the cases with the highest stakes.

Thanks to the Berne Convention, most original literary and artistic works created privately after April 1, 1989 are technically copyrighted and protected.  This includes works that are not registered under the US Copyright Office.   Thus, watermarking your images, publishing small file sizes to the web, and registering your works with the US Copyright Office are three ways in which you can reduce your risk of image theft.

Here is a brief tutorial I’ve created that explains the easiest methods of watermarking your images and reducing your risk of image theft: 

Notice I said reduce. Not eliminate risk.  With digital technologies advancing, tools like Photoshop CS5’s Content Aware Fill and savvy editors can still remove logos, watermarks, etc., sometimes with breathtaking ease.  This is why it is important to at least take several precautions to protect your images.
  1. Always post your image with, at minimum, the © symbol, your name (or business name), and a year visible on the image itself.  This accomplishes two things:
    1. Gives notice to the viewer that this image is copyrighted.
    2. Notifies the viewer of the identity of the copyright holder. (Ideally he/she will contact you for permission to license the photo.)  In reality, they still may not do so and/or still use your image without your permission; but, at least you have given notice first, which can be helpful if a legal battle ensues.  It is even better if your watermark and copyright information include contact information, such as a website or email, to make it easy for them to contact you to use the image.
  2. Whenever possible, post low resolution, small files to the internet.  By doing so, it is more difficult for someone to steal your image and enlarge it for prints or other personal and commercial purposes.
  3. Populate the metadata for your image.   This adds a digital record to your file that can be reviewed by other and/or used to clarify the copyright holder of the image.
  4. Do not delete the other similar images in the series.  For example, if you captured an award-winning shot of a wild polar bear with a toucan perched on its nose while cuddling with a giraffe in a field of daisies and a rainbow… well, you deserve the award!  But…don’t delete the other similar (but perhaps less-perfect) images in the series that you captured of that subject.  In certain cases (e.g., copyright infringement cases, contest awards, etc.), you may need to show proof you were the photographer/copyright holder.  Those who can produce files containing a series of similar images may be in better legal standing than someone who can only produce the single file of the award-winning shot.
  5. Right-click proofing is not enough.  Even if you publish your photographs to sites that offer the ability to disable “right-clicking” or downloading the file from the website, don’t be fooled.  This is a preventative measure; however, it is not perfect.  Nearly any time you view an image online, it gets stored in your cache as a real, useable file.  Anyone can explore their cache and retrieve the image, use it as needed, and bypass your “security” measure.  “Right-click-proofing” your site keeps the honest…honest…but that’s about all it does. 
  6. Any image you create yourself has inherent copyright attached to it.  For even more protection, consider registering your most prized images with the US Copyright Office.  It may be time-consuming, but for a relatively low cost, it will afford you added protection should an infringement situation arise.
  7. Resources:
    1. For more information about copyrighting and protecting your images, the Professional Photographers Association provides these tips and resources:
    2. 10 Myths about Copyright:  A great resource to clarify misconceptions about copyright:
    3. United States Copyright Office: Offers details on registering your copyrighted material within the US.  For countries outside the US, check your local government websites for details.
    4. Software that tracks the appearance and use of your images on the web:
Alan, I hope this advice and brief video tutorial are helpful!  Thanks for asking me to assist!  Happy Clicking!

Lisa Langell


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